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Julius Caesar (Signet Classic) by William…

Julius Caesar (Signet Classic) (original 1623; edition 1998)

by William Shakespeare

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Title:Julius Caesar (Signet Classic)
Authors:William Shakespeare
Info:Signet Classics (1998), Paperback, 304 pages
Collections:Own, Classics, Fiction, Plays, Read
Tags:Own, Classics, Fiction, Plays, Read

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Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare (1623)



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"I seek not to disprove what Brutus spoke." (Mark Antony, pg. 76)

Shakespeare is the master of the laden phrase. Take, for example, the famous utterance by Cassius after Caesar's murder: "How many ages hence Shall this our lofty scene be acted over, In states unborn and accents yet unknown?" (pg. 68). Not only is this often quoted by those eulogizing Shakespeare's enduring popularity, it also has multiple meanings within the context of the play: referring not only to the impact of Caesar's murder on the course of history but to the sad role such assassinations play again and again in human affairs (Lincoln, JFK, etc.) whilst also breaking the fourth wall between actor and audience. And it sounds good, too. Shakespeare is at his eloquent and bursting best here.

In fact, my preconceptions of Julius Caesar were wide of the mark: I expected it to be a rather black-and-white historical epic with ringing rhetoric and lots of blood – more Henry V than Hamlet. Whilst the latter part is true, with fine speeches ('lend me your ears') and one particularly prominent murder, it is rather grey in its morality. Henry V was by no means simplistic (and scholars continue to expend ink on Shakespeare's nuanced portrayal of the King) but it was rather cut-and-dry in terms of who you were to root for. Julius Caesar is more like the later Hamlet or Macbeth in that every character is nuanced (when Brutus reports to Caesar about the Ides of March soothsayer (pg. 36), it reminded me a lot of Macbeth pledging fealty to Duncan, in how he is unwittingly manipulated and unaware of his future course). Caesar is dictatorial but benevolent; Brutus is honourable but easily-led. Cassius is malicious but not wrong in his conscientious mistrust of Caesar's growing power. Mark Antony wins the sympathy of the audience for his loyalty to Caesar, but he is ruthlessly duplicitous to the plebs.

This is the reason I opened my review with a quote from Mark Antony (coming during the 'lend me your ears' speech) as it emphasizes this grey morality and Shakespeare's laden phrases. Whilst deftly turning the crowd against Brutus and his co-conspirators, Antony is couching it in language that would seem harmless to Brutus' ears. He wins the plebs over to sympathy of the murdered Caesar and condemnation of his killers by referencing Caesar's will, in which he divested sums of money to each citizen of Rome and his property to the public good. Yet, in his next scene, in conference with Octavius (later Augustus), he is trying to determine "how to cut off some charge in legacies" (pg. 83) – that is, how to avoid paying up. It is a brazenly Machiavellian masterclass, and the difference to the similarly-famous 'band of brothers' speech from Henry V – with its compassionate but clear-cut jingoism – is marked.

There is much more to Julius Caesar than this, of course, but every time I read one of Shakespeare's plays I am surprised at just how much depth there is in under 100 pages. Individual scenes carry more weight than the entire oeuvre of other writers. There are commentaries on the nature of power, political violence, the course of history and the need to seize one's opportune moment – all written in some of the finest English prose ever laid down. Shakespeare's enduring vitality continues to provide answers to Cassius' rhetorical question. ( )
2 vote MikeFutcher | Jun 3, 2017 |
I love the Folger editions w awesome illustrations from the library. This is a larger sized paperback which is easy on the eyes. I have to say that Shakespeare is fairly neutral in presenting the main characters.

Was happy to see "Let loose the dogs of war", though I previously thought that was from one of the Henry's. ( )
  delta351 | Jun 2, 2017 |
William Shakespeare

Julius Caesar

Penguin Popular Classics, Paperback [2001].

12mo. 122 pp. Edited by G. B. Harrison. Introduction to the play and two essays about Shakespeare and the Elizabethan theatre [pp. 7-21]. The Works of Shakespeare [p. 6]. Notes [pp. 113-19]. Glossary [pp. 121-22].

Written, c. 1599.
First published, 1623 [F1].
Edited by G. B. Harrison, 1937.
Penguin Popular Classics, 1994.
Reprinted with line numbers inserted, 2001.


The Works of Shakespeare
William Shakespeare
The Elizabethan Theatre
Julius Caesar (Introduction)

Julius Caesar
Act I, Scenes 1-3
Act II, Scenes 1-4
Act III, Scenes 1-3
Act IV, Scenes 1-2
Act V, Scenes 1-3



Re-reading the Bard is a rare pleasure. When you’re familiar with one of his plays, you can appreciate all the better his dramatic genius. He is often extolled as a poet, but he is seldom given his due as a dramatist. Julius Caesar, poetically pedestrian but dramatically sublime, is one of the finest opportunities to rectify this injustice.

As a tragedy, this play is a failure, for the simple reason that there is no tragic protagonist. The title character is a demented old man, too little seen and heard, too early killed off. It was a brilliant stroke of irony to name the play after him. Brutus is a fool, but not like the one with capital “F” whom Lear was happy to have, but one whose all letters are capital. Foolishness – God (should He exist) knows – is more than relevant to our sorry existence. But it is the proper subject of comedy, not tragedy.[1]

But as a tense drama of personal confrontation and manipulation, this play is a masterpiece. Cassius, one of the greatest villains in Shakespeare and an excellent dress rehearsal for Iago, and Mark Antony, a ruthless demagogue in his pre-Cleopatran days, steal every scene in which they appear. They meet face to face but once, right after the murder (III.1.)[2], and it’s a meeting charged with menacing undertones (to which the obtuse Brutus is quite oblivious). The words they exchange are few but meaningful and so, no doubt, are the glances. Cassius and Antony are obviously aware of their intellectual superiority. Perhaps they wish they were not enemies. What could these two achieve together on the same side of conspiracy!

The play is exceptionally well-constructed. None of its 15 scenes is superfluous.[3] The very first scene (I.1.) is admittedly not on par with the arresting opening of Othello or Antony and Cleopatra, yet it quickly establishes the dual nature of Caesar’s popularity: favour with the people, disfavour with the tribunes. The brief but touching scene with the murder of Cinna the Poet (III.3.) by the bloodthirsty crowd is nothing if not a horrible illustration of the Reign of Terror that usually follows assassinations like this. Cinna says he is the poet, not the conspirator of the same name, but then the plebeians simply change their tune. “Tear him for his bad verses”, they now shout. Such is the mob mentality!

The third act is stupendous! The death of Cinna is only a postscript to one of the greatest pieces of drama ever penned by anybody, the ultimate example of crowd manipulation. The way Cassius twists around his little finger Brutus (I.2.) and Casca (I.3.), playing on the vanity of the former and the silly superstitions of the latter, is downright brilliant. But it is nothing compared to Antony’s inflaming the mob against the “honourable men” (III.2.) that murdered Caesar. And Shakespeare takes care to “spoil” it for us. We have just seen and heard Antony’s “Cry havoc” soliloquy over the bloody corpse of his friend (III.1.) and we know perfectly well what he is trying to do. This can only increase our admiration for his consummate performance. Unlike the earnest but stodgy rhetoric of Brutus (in prose), there is not a single sincere word in Antony’s much longer address (in verse) and the morons on the Forum lap it up completely.

I still found, on this re-reading, the last two acts something of an anti-climax. I guess this is inevitable. Not even Shakespeare could maintain the tension after a third act likes this. But those last five scenes have their charms. Central among them, of course, is the quarrel and reconciliation between Cassius and Brutus (IV.2.). Both conspiratorial leaders are certainly elevated, if not to the exalted plane of tragic heroes, at least to the status of pathetic creatures who, like the Macbeths but on much lower level, spent everything but gained nothing. Oddly enough, Cassius comes off better than Brutus whose mindless pedantry is the cause of the quarrel in the first place. Both, however, have some memorably beautiful and moving lines which suggest that there is a great deal of lost love between them (Brutus is supposed to be addressing one of his friends, but he might as well be talking to himself):

Thou hast describ’d
A hot friend, cooling: Ever note Lucilius,
When Love begins to sicken and decay
It useth an enforced ceremony.
There are no tricks, in plain and simple Faith:
But hollow men, like horses hot at hand,
Make gallant show, and promise of their mettle:
But when they should endure the bloody spur,
They fall their crests, and like deceitful jades
Sink in the trial.

Come Antony, and young Octavius come,
Revenge yourselves alone on Cassius,
For Cassius is a-weary of the World:
Hated by the one he loves, brav’d by his Brother,
Check’d like a bondman, all his faults observ’d,
Set in a note-book, learn’d, and conn’d by rote
To cast into my teeth. O I would weep
My spirit from mine eyes. There is my dagger,
And here my naked breast: within, a heart
Dearer than Pluto’s mine, richer than gold:
If that thou be’st a Roman, take it forth.
I that deni’d thee gold, will give my heart:
Strike as thou didst at Caesar: For I know,
When thou didst hate him worst, thou lovedst him better
Than ever thou lovedst Cassius.

You have to love Brutus’ horse imagery! Perhaps it requires a little explanation, fortunately provided by the Notes and the Glossary. It’s nice to have translated “jades” (feeble-spirited horses), “enforced ceremony” (forced politeness) and “fall their crests” (become crestfallen). So dying love is like “horses which are restless when the rider wishes them to stand but tire quickly when spurred on”. Cassius’ cri de cœur is likewise elucidated with precision.

The Notes by G. B. Harrison are of the usual high quality. He doesn’t try to kill you with the weight of his erudition every single line. He expects you to know the basics of Shakespeare’s language and think a little about it yourself. He almost completely ignores textual issues. He certainly doesn’t inflict on you his own ideas about the plot and the characters, but the little he does say is well worth considering. For instance, the crucial meeting in III.1. is described thus: “The contrast between Brutus and Cassius is here well shown. Brutus offers Antony fine sentiments, Cassius a share in the spoils.”

On the other hand, G.B.H. is a master of explaining puns (not just the obvious “Rome/room”, but also the rather subtler “withal/with awl”) and providing relevant mythological (e.g. Aeneas/Anchises, Brutus/Tarquin) or historical (e.g. references to Elizabethan clothes and London sights that become “Roman”) background. As a sort of supplement to the notes, G. B. Harrison’s masterful chapter in Shakespeare’s Tragedies (1951) must be recommended wholeheartedly, especially his analysis of Brutus and Antony as public speakers.[4]

The introduction is typically concise and illuminating. It covers a lot of ground in very little space. G. B. H. notes several references that suggest 1599 as the year of first production and, quite possibly, writing. The Chorus in Henry V and the journal of Thomas Platter are rather well-known, but John Weever’s poem The Mirror for Martyrs is somewhat more obscure. Written in 1599 but not published until 1601, this piece of witty poetry clearly refers to Shakespeare’s play:

‘The many-headed multitude were drawn
By Brutus’ speech, that Caesar was ambitious,
When eloquent Mark Antony had shown
His virtues, who but Brutus then was vicious?’

Even more fascinating are several references to Ben Jonson’s dislike of Julius Caesar. One of them, in his posthumously published Discoveries (1641), even suggest that Shakespeare may have altered one of Caesar’s lines which offended the fastidious Jonson. Of course, G. B. H. also provides extensive quotations from Shakespeare’s major source, including the passages about Antony’s speech and the Brutus-Cassius confrontation in Act IV, to show how the Bard transformed Plutarch’s bland prose into something much more complex, dramatic and emotionally charged.

Last but not least, the Introduction deals briefly with the textual issues. As evident from the quotes above, G. B. Harrison’s text is somewhat different than most modern versions, most notably in terms of punctuation. He followed the Folio more closely than usual and altered its punctuation, designed for dramatic reading aloud, only in rare cases when it “seemed definitely wrong”. There are no early quartos of Julius Caesar, but the Folio text is “excellently printed, with very few errors.” The spelling is modernised, but much of the capitals are retained.

[1] I have recently seen Brutus described as “the liberal idealist at war with himself”. This is superficial, to say the least. Brutus’ idealism is heavily stained with overbearing vanity, empty rhetoric and muddled metaphysics. Nor is it particularly liberal, as suggested by his insistence on being the sole leader of the conspiracy. As for the “war with himself”, it is more pose than anything else; it is swept off by the crafty Cassius easily enough. Heaven knows what Brutus would have turned into had he managed to get away with Caesar’s murder. The chances are that he would have become another dictator, and much worse than his predecessor.
[2] They meet again, of course, at Philippi (V.1.), but that meeting is merely an exchange of insults by confirmed enemies. It lacks completely the ambiguous tension of the earlier encounter.
[3] 15 in this edition, I mean. Other editions may have up to 17 or even 18 scenes, depending on how the text is split. In any case, acts and scenes are merely for convenience. As usual with Elizabethan plays, the action is swift and continuous, never mind changes of locale or time compression. The Folio text does have five acts, but no scenes whatsoever.
[4] I have quoted the complete passage in my previous bunch of reflections on Julius Caesar. See note 24. ( )
  Waldstein | May 4, 2017 |
A classic in Shakespearean literature. This is fitting for Tenth grade students, and is a good secondary introduction to Shakespeare. Would be an interesting book to have students act out themselves. ( )
  alexishartline | Feb 5, 2017 |
The first Shakespeare I ever read. I am wildly in love with Marc Antony (odd, because I actively despise him in [book: Antony and Cleopatra]). ( )
  wealhtheowwylfing | Feb 29, 2016 |
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» Add other authors (163 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Shakespeare, Williamprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Andrews, John F.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Atwan, RobertEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Baldini, GabrieleEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Barnett, SlyvanEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bevington, David M.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bloom, HaroldContributorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Books, PennyEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Braunmuller, Albert R.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Brooke, TuckerEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Daniell, DavidEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dorsch, T.S.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dreyfuss, RichardNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Elloway, David ReginaldEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Furness, Horace Howard, JrEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gill, RomaEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Grammer, KelseyNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hadfield, Andrew DavidEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hampden, PhilipEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Harrison, George B.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hawinkels, PéTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Hulme, H. M.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jones, Pei te HurinuiTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Kittredge, George LymanEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Rolfe, William J.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rosen, BarbaraEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Taylor, George CoffinEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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First words
Hence! Home, you idle creatures get you home!
Beware the ides of March.
Cowards die many times before their deaths;

The valiant never taste of death but once.

Of all the wonders that I yet have heard,

It seems to me most strange that men should fear;

Seeing that death, a necessary end,

Will come when it will come.
Et tu, Brute!
For Brutus is an honourable man;

So are they all, all honourable men.
Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;

I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.

The evil that men do lives after them;

The good is oft interred with their bones.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
This work is for the COMPLETE "Julius Ceasar" ONLY. Do not combine this work with abridgements, adaptations or "simplifications" (such as "Shakespeare Made Easy"), Cliffs Notes or similar study guides, or anything else that does not contain the full text. Do not include any video recordings. Additionally, do not combine this with other plays.
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Book description
"BEWARE THE IDES OF MARCH." Julius Caesar is one of Shakespeare's most popular plays. It is about how Caesar is plotted against and eventually murdered and overthrown by some of his closest friends. Brutus, the closest friend and main plotter of the murder, ends up murdering himself and his conscious gets the better of him. This book is the epitome of betrayal and is referred to and alluded to all throughout literature.
Haiku summary
Men plot a murder
against a would-be tyrant.
Then they start a war. (marcusbrutus)

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0743482743, Mass Market Paperback)

Folger Shakespeare Library

The world's leading center for Shakespeare studies

Each edition includes:

• Freshly edited text based on the best early printed version of the play

• Full explanatory notes conveniently placed on pages facing the text of the play

• Scene-by-scene plot summaries

• A key to famous lines and phrases

• An introduction to reading Shakespeare's language

• An essay by an outstanding scholar providing a modern perspective on the play

• Illustrations from the Folger Shakespeare Library's vast holdings of rare books

Essay by Coppélia Kahn

The Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., is home to the world's largest collection of Shakespeare's printed works, and a magnet for Shakespeare scholars from around the globe. In addition to exhibitions open to the public throughout the year, the Folger offers a full calendar of performances and programs.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:13:03 -0400)

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Contains an introduction to the play, the text of the play, and notes.

(summary from another edition)

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2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0140714685, 0141012390

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